Project Canterbury











NEW-YORK: D. Appleton and Co., 200 Broadway

PHILADELPHIA: George S. Appleton, 148 Chestnut-Street.






I have read with much attention and care, the most of all which has been written upon both sides of the controversy which this event has awakened. There seem to me to be certain things which have been sufficiently discussed, and adequately settled. But there have been certain questions raised in my own mind in connexion with this subject, which go much farther than the mere circumstances of the case; and I desire, with much respect for the judgments and opinions of others who have spoken upon this subject, calmly to suggest them. The controversy seems to me to have remained very much among the incidents of the occasion, and to have thus far left very important principles, as they appear to me, which are necessarily involved in it, far too much unnoticed. Undoubtedly the real issue in this individual instance, which must be considered also, a representative of such to follow, is to be found in the actual false doctrines charged upon the young man, and their utter inconsistency with our standards of received truth. But perhaps it would be now generally allowed, that even with whatever circumstances mitigating his avowal of them, it would have been better, wiser, and more expedient, in reference to all the interests of the Church, if he had not been ordained. I presume the general respect of the Church, would have been accorded to Bishop Onderdonk and his attending and examining presbyters, if they had, at least in consideration of the views of other persons, and they not a few, deferred the ordination for further consideration. I think it will be almost as generally conceded, that the avowal of such sentiments as he declared, even after all the apparently compulsory explanations of them which have been drawn out, ought to be a sufficient reason for exclusion from orders in the Protestant Episcopal Church. But are these the only points at issue? Or do they include the only facts which out to be considered? Are we to consider the occasion in the concrete, a mere question of the admission or the exclusion of popish sentiments from our ministry? I certainly would not appear to undervalue this question. But I have not been able to satisfy my mind with this view. After all that has been written, I am not satisfied with the mere condemnation of Bishop Onderdonk, in all the facts of the case. And I should be glad simply to state what seem to me to be important principles to be considered in this case, and difficulties which have not been sufficiently met in its discussion.


. In regard to the actual final protest; was the subject of it, one that came within the prescription of the rubric? I confess myself unsatisfied with the evidence of this. I shall not be suspected of dealing lightly with the difficulty suggested. My course in reference to all the question of popery, is at least well know by those who know any thing of me. But are the assembled congregation at an ordination, old and young, male and female, to be considered, in the view of the Church, as judges of the intellectual and doctrinal qualifications and preparation of candidates for orders? In such an assembly, we can recognize no respect of persons. And two have as good a right to object, as any other two, when the call is made, "Brethren, if there be any of you who knoweth," &c. Now can two presbyters in such circumstances, be considered more competent witnesses, than any other two men or women who are present in the Church. The only question is, what have any persons a right to object to the candidates proposed? It must be answered, I think, clearly that, which persons so situated, may be supposed, or competent, to know. The exhortation is, "any impediment, or notable crime, &c., for the which he ought not to be admitted to that office." There can be no question that avowed popery is an impediment which ought to be an exclusion in such a case, even if it be not a notable crime. But is a charged or suspected tendency to popery an equal impediment, if it were reasonably known? Or is it such an impediment, even when established, as comes within the intended reach of the exhortation and the rubric, to which reference is made? Any moral crime is within the judgment and view and ability to testify, of all persons present, who have had opportunities of witnessing it; and it may have been entirely unknown to the Bishop and presbyters engaged in the ordination. And of any fact within such a range, any persons present may justly testify. The very fact, that the Bishop is required by the rubric absolutely to "cease from ordering the person until such time as the party accused shall be found clear," shows that the fact implied, is something which can be demonstratively proved, or shown to be untrue. It must be something, in regard to which there can be no liberty of judgment, whether it exist or not, or whether if existing, it be right or wrong. The Bishop is bound to stay all proceedings, till the person "be found clear," of course implying by the testimony of others, and not by his own assertions merely. But it seems to me, when the Canons of the Church have provided three years’ study for the candidate for orders, under the supervising direction of the Bishop, and three distinct examinations by the Bishop and presbyters into the results of this education, in order to ascertain and exhibit his mental and theological sufficiency for the work of the ministry; and then require him in the 7th Article of the Constitution to subscribe the declaration of his faith in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the Word of God, and containing all things necessary to salvation, and an engagement of conformity to the doctrines and worship of the Church, the ministry of which he is seeking; that the door cannot be considered as left open, for any persons at the very last, to declare their dissatisfaction with him on this ground, to the effect of arresting his ordination. If so, then any persons present may be allowed to make any conceivable objections of the character, which seem to them important,—either to the manifest injury of the candidate, if they be regarded by the Bishop, or to the manifest breaking up of all order and decorum in the service, if they be disregarded. The decision in this case, what supposed doctrines are "an impediment or notable crime," would be left entirely to the judgment or prejudices of the persons making the objection. And if one may charge supposed popery, another may accuse of Calvinism, or Arminianism, or Puritanism, or whatever seems to any to be grievous religious error, or a doctrinal deficiency amounting to just impediment to ordination in our Church. It must depend then wholly upon the character, and will, and personal theology of the individual Bishop, what effect each particular charge should be allowed to have. If such objections were to be considered in order in their nature, and regarded as such, inasmuch as the Bishop has no liberty of action by the rubric, one Bishop must necessarily suspend one class of candidates, and another must refuse another class, according to the particular views of each, to the certain breaking up of all order and propriety in our service, and all regularity in our discipline; and, as I shall attempt to show subsequently, to the violation of the actual rights of the candidate himself. Our patchwork Church, no longer at unity in itself, would then exhibit the strange incoherence, that Bishop A. would not ordain Popish men,—nor Bishop B. Calvinistic men, nor Bishop C. Arminian men, &c.,—and what would be the inevitable result, but the complete breaking up of our whole Church throughout the land? The impossibility of erecting with any equity, such a tribunal for judgment in theological questions, as would be found in the minds of every promiscuous congregation, or of carrying it out to any result, but confusion and dissension in the Church; and the entire opposition of such a plan to the canonical provisions of the Church, in regard to the preparation and examination of candidates for orders, lead me to conclude with certainty, in my own mind, that the possible impediments suggested to the consideration of the congregation, cannot be mental, or theological impediments, of which the Bishop and presbyters must be reasonably judged far better informed than they,—but must be moral impediments which any persons in the congregation may know, though the Bishop do not. The moral character of the candidate has been also certified by canonical testimonials,—but these may be to a great extent, with but partial knowledge in the persons signing them. Any persons are competent witnesses of moral facts. Many persons may know facts which are wholly inconsistent with the testimonials which have been given. The congregation are supposed to be witnesses of the life and conversation of the candidate. They are therefore called upon to testify what they know upon this subject, and their testimony is of course to be considered and examined according to the rubric. I have not been able to convince myself that the protest at the ordination which is particularly referred to, was within the range of this rubric, or consequently, much as I respect the persons involved, and regard the difficulty proposed, an orderly or just proceeding; though the novelty of the question, and the occasion, and the fact, that the principle involved was as yet unsettled, must shield from all censure in this incident of the occasion, men who has so faithfully discharged their duty in this whole crisis. If our Canons do not sufficiently reach possible theological errors, some other method of greater stringency must be discovered. But I cannot as one agree, that the extremity in any case will hereafter justify or warrant that which seems to me an illegal effort to meet its supposed evils.


. In regard to the candidate himself. It has been a very serious consideration in my own mind, in connexion with this subject, how far there are to be acknowledged actual rights in the candidate himself, which cannot be violated, or refused, but with great injustice; and whether the submission to a protest against ordination, like he one we have seen, would not be an actual violation of these rights? The action of the civil law of this land, as I understand it, in relation to the various ecclesiastical laws under which its subjects have voluntarily placed themselves, is to see that, in case of any ecclesiastical dispute or context brought under its cognizance, these several laws have been accurately and properly complied with. A palpable violation of these ecclesiastical laws injuring the rights, or disparaging the character, of any member of a religious community who is under them, would open a just action for personal damages against the individuals or authorities guilty of such manifest oppression. This, however, is a low view of the subject. I trust the important claims of justice and truth will always have more weight among us, than any possible exposure to civil punishment or pecuniary damages. But if a candidate for orders has rights in himself, secured by the laws and action of the church, and the arresting of his ordination upon a protest involving insufficient or illegal objections, would be a violation of these rights—not only is he the victim of great injustice; but he has also a right to call for the protection of the civil law, to secure him against the power and effects of ecclesiastical oppression. It becomes, therefore, a very important question to consider, what are the rights of a candidate for orders. In doing this, I shall not deem it necessary to refer to particular canons, which are well known, but to consider the course through which a candidate is led by the authority and appointment of the Church. Our canons lay open this path with great distinctness. They also guard it, and limit it, with very marked and peculiar restraints. The question is, does a perfect compliance with all these directions and restraints give, from the Church to the candidate, a right to expect and to claim his orders at the last, nothing appearing in any legal way to vitiate this performance of his required course? A young man is invited to become a candidate for orders, for the plan laid out for him amounts to an invitation. He obtains his certificates of personal character, and is regularly received and recorded by the Bishop as a candidate. He pursues his prescribed course of studies under the direction of his Bishop. He passes satisfactorily to the Bishop and presbyters his required examinations. He presents his regular certificates for ordination. He subscribes the required declaration of conformity. He has thus finished and completed his prescribed course of education to the satisfaction of the authorities under which he has been placed. Now has he acquired a right upon the faith of the Church, with whose prescriptions he has fully complied, to the ordination which he seeks? It must be granted, of course, that if his qualification, mental or moral, are ultimately found insufficient, he may be justly rejected. If his examining Bishop and presbyters are dissatisfied with the one, they have certainly the right to reject him there. If any persons are acquainted with moral crimes, which, if known, would actually overturn all the worth and influence of his certificates of character, they may declare him at the very last moment, and he may be arrested there. But if his examinations have been satisfactory to the persons appointed to direct them, and his character is unstained with moral crime, has he not a right secured to him to the ordination, for which he has fulfilled his appointed preparation? Or is it to be considered by him, and for him, utterly uncertain, to the very last moment, whether he shall be allowed to gain the object of his wish? May he finish his curriculum of study, and fulfil every requisition of the Church under whose care he is placed, receive the approbation of the chief ministers appointed over him, gain all the required certificates of unspotted character, and be admitted to record his name in the Bishop’s register, to the constitutional promise of conformity to the doctrine and discipline of the Church, and thus have his acceptance to orders as it were acknowledged to him, and his mind authorized to rest in peaceful expectation of his ordination, and yet may he be exposed to be arrested, in the very attainment of his desire, by the possible judgment of two persons in the assembled congregation, that he is deficient or erroneous in religious doctrine, or theological training? I confess this amounts in my view to extreme oppression. What young man of honorable and ingenuous feelings would be willing to expose himself to this possible disgrace, and this entire uncertainty of prospect. Or what Christian parent would be willing, in the face of such a hazard, to commit his son to the faith and guardianship of a Church, whose system of law was so insecure, and so destitute of all protection to his character or prospects? Yet if the principle, that a final protest, founded upon the personal suspicion or conviction of any persons, that the theological attainments and preparation of the candidate are insufficient or unsound, is to be of necessity regarded, and acted upon by the Bishop ordaining, to what other result than this shall we be brought? Will it not completely unsettle our whole Church, in thus undermining the just prospects and rights of the ministry at the very commencement of their course? Will not the secret reservation of such arbitrary and irresponsible power, amount to a complete exclusion of desirable candidates from our ministry? I am necessarily led, therefore, from these considerations to the conviction, that there are rights secured to the candidate, upon the implied faith of the Church. The connexion seems to me, to have the aspect of a mutual contract. The candidate voluntarily yields himself to restraints and laws, to which he was not before subject, to gain advantages and benefits, which are thus promised and secured to him. The Church therefore comes under an obligation to bestow upon him, on the fulfilment of his part of the contract, the advantages of ministry, to which it has encouraged him to look; and he in consequence, has a right to the result of his labours, which cannot justly be withheld from him. In the present case, I certainly allow that the difficulties objected, might have been sufficient to exclude the candidate from orders. But the place and time at which this ought to have been done, were at his three canonical examinations. There, and there only, it seems to me, was the question to be settled, of his theological sufficiency. Beyond this, it appears to me to have been an invasion of his rights to appoint another examination, and a concession of them, of his part, to submit to it. If the canonical examinations are not adequate, let the proper remedy be applied, by the General Convention. But I should feel compelled to resist all extra canonical action, especially that which seems to me to compromise the personal rights of any member of the Church, as being an expedient both dangerous and unsound. I cannot therefore but consider Bishop Onderdonk, however acting erroneously, in previously passing a young man, against whom such charges are made, with approbation through his examination for orders, yet, as being at the time of the ordination the defender and protector of the canonical rights of the candidate, the guardian of constitutional liberty and law, and the opposer of a course of action which in my view would have been in a very high degree oppressive and unjust.


. This subject must be viewed in regard to the Bishop. It appears to me a very important question in this case, what power the Bishop actually has in the premises stated. If a candidate may not be justly thrust back from his expected ordination, by the illegal objections of other persons, which point I have just considered, may he be put aside by the arbitrary and irresponsible power of the Bishop himself? The concession of this power seems to be required as the foundation of censure upon the Bishop for not exercising such authority in this case. The question of actual Episcopal power in our Church seems by some to be considered still an unsettled question. Extravagant claims are made by some in behalf of our Bishops; for it must be truly said, I think, that the Bishops have not often made undue claims for themselves. I remember once hearing it said, that all power emanated from the Bishops, and whatever powers were not by them voluntarily conceded to the Church, they still actually possessed. This amounted simply to the assertion that the power to hand or imprison men was still possessed by them, as it certainly was not by them conceded, or by the canons assigned to any other persons. Others, with manifest justice as it seems to me, consider the jurisdiction of the Bishop to emanate wholly from the Church, and to be conceded, and given to him, by the law of the Church. Bishops may not justly ordain ministers, but according to the prescriptions and directions of the Canons. May they, by any arbitrary power, refuse ordination, when, according to my previous supposition, all the demands and directions of the Church have been complied with? That is, may a candidate finish his course, as before supposed, and come to the very verge of ordination, and still be necessarily entirely uncertain, from his ignorance of the secret mind and purpose of the Bishop, up the very moment of the imposition of hands, whether he shall be ordained or not? I conceive the whole previous argument applies with increased force here. My whole education and experience have led me earnestly to oppose secret and constructive powers, and to desire every right and duty of man to be laid out in written law. I should feel compelled to resist the exercise of undefined power in any officer among us, as being a violent encroachment upon the rights which are secured to us all, as members of this Church, whose glory is the openness and regularity of her system of law. But the arresting of a candidate at the very point of his ordination, when he has been previously altogether accepted and approved by the secret and sole determination of the Bishop himself, seems to me one of the most tyrannical instances of power which can be well conceived. The concession of the existence of such a power, is a virtual annihilation of the whole authority of the solemnly established canons of the Church. If the Church must say to candidates, "here is the course of study laid out for you, the plan which you are to pursue; but we cannot assure you, if you do pursue it in the most unblameable and exemplary manner, and with the most successful attainments of learning, that you shall obtain your ordination; for that must depend upon the secret purpose and determination of the Bishop alone, of which we know nothing;" is it not simply saying, "we may pass whatsoever laws we please, but there is a secret power in the Bishops which transcends, and may despise them all?" Who can imagine that any such power can be acknowledged in the Bishop as this? He is appointed to execute the laws of the Church, and to see that they are executed by others,—not to violate and annul them. But these very laws he may himself be tried, and to them he is continually amenable. He is as much bound to submit to them as the youngest deacon in his diocese, and should be to all an example of such obedience. But if he has the secret right to refuse ordination according to his own will, to a candidate legally qualified,—or if he may arrest the ordination of such an one at the very last, upon his own personal dissatisfaction with him, for any cause not within the written requisitions of the law, we have brought in a power to operated in the Church, of the most oppressive and tyrannical character. And I may say again, few young men of worthiness for the ministry, would be willing to go through a course of preparation, exposed to the hazard of being thus crushed at last, by the secret and irresponsible determination of the Bishop. Certainly the Bishop possesses the power to arrest the course of unworthy candidates. They are under his particular direction through their whole course. They are subject to his repeated examinations. If they are theologically deficient or unsound, they are then to be rejected. If they are found morally unqualified, they may be arrested at the very last moment. But I apprehend, that it is too late, then, to object merely mental or theological disqualification. And I should hesitate much to allow to the Bishop the final right, for the refusal to exercise which the Bishop of New-York is blamed. I must say again, the blame, in this case, as one of the facts, must be put upon previous acts. In the refusal to reject the candidate at the last, upon the objections made, he seems to me only to have refused the exercise of a power, which, in my view, he did not possess, and the exercise of which, it appears to me, if it had been tolerated, would have been one of the most dangerous precedents every established in the Church.

These are questions which have occurred to my mind in connexion with this subject, considered in its canonical and legal aspect, and wholly separate from the incidental questions of doctrine which have been involved in this particular case. I suggest them, not so much as final opinions upon the subject, but as appearing to me to be very important principles for our consideration, which have not in this controversy been adequately regarded. I leave them to the examination of other brethren, many of whom are so much wiser and better informed upon this subject than myself. I utter them upon my own person responsibility alone, that you may not be considered in any way involved in the statement of them.

Project Canterbury